When Excite Truck was first previewed at last year's E3, it was met with a rather lukewarm reception due to its apparent simplicity and how the Wii controls would fit in. However, with some spit and polish this title is looking slightly better, and now with further work could be a sleeper hit for the Wii.
For the most part controls have been made responsive and straight forward. Players hold the Wii controller horizontally with the face pointing up and using the 2 and 1 buttons for accelerating and braking and the d-pad for turbo boost. The turbo system is extremely well designed, as you can use it freely, but there is one major stipulation: if you put too much stress on the engine, it'll overheat and cause a breakdown. It's a great feature that adds an extra bit of strategy to things. Another nice touch comes in the form of track items, similar to Wipeout or Mario Kart, as the tracks are filled with various items that you can grab to help you through the circuit along the lines of a speed booster and an item that causes a quake that launches your opponents into the air, allowing you to speed to the front of the pack.
Despite the potential that Excite Truck has, its biggest failing could come about because of one of the key factors of any racing game - steering. In order to steer, you must twist the controller to the left or right and the truck should act accordingly. Unfortunately, the controls have been unresponsive, as shown on many web videos, causing you to wander around the track, constantly struggling to avoid capsizing or ramming into obstacles, rather than easily going left or right. It's possible that the controller wasn't calibrated correctly, but the tilt feature was exhibited to be working fine.
Excite Truck doesn't let you participate in any real racing until you've completed the first of four training modes. It won't take you long to finish up all four training sections, by which time you'll be well-versed on the basic and more advanced controls. There's a "stunt" system in place, but it only really consists of learning how to pull off some rather underwhelming spin rotations in the air. Other more interesting moves that will be featured teach you how to turbo-jump off of ramps and land perfectly on all four wheels.
Once you've nailed the training stuff, you'll be able to hit either the two-player split-screen racing mode, or the single-player Excite Race and Challenge modes. The latter modes are where the core content of the game forms up. Excite Race is your standard four-cup, multiple-stage affair where the idea is to score big and come in first place to progress. The Challenge mode sees you trying to beat specific goals by smashing into other racers, jumping through rings in the air, or nailing a series of gates on the ground.
Whilst the racing side of the game looks fine, aside from the glaring omission of an online mode, the controls will need some re-working if this title wants to be on the Wii must buy list.